Small businesses succeed because their owners do some critical things well.
At times like this when the world is not helping you, when the pandemic shuts your city down, when the economy is in freefall, it seems obvious that we need to apply some emergency strategies as I wrote about in May this year.
But what is less obvious is that any crisis strategy you take to keep your business afloat, even those I recommended, is still based on the key business principles you need to have in your business, whether you are starting up, looking to grow, or reviewing your ability to survive, change or pivot.
Every strategy and tactic to employ now – as they are when you are in the growth phase – should be focused on the six keys to business success.
Even with multiple strategies and tactics in your plans, only those that reinforce these six key attributes are deserving of the focus right now, especially now when you can’t waste time on non-critical use of time and other resources.
If you look after these six key factors, you will be able to do what you plan to do, every time.
In this week’s post, I’d like to explain what these six fundamental attributes are, and how you can apply them in a simple six-day challenge to sustain or grow your small business.
The first key to business success is ensuring that you are showing leadership in your business, and as a business.
If you employ people, despite your current worries, you have one advantage over your employees – you are in control of what happens in your business. They can only contribute in ways that you direct or suggest whereas it is still in your power to make decisions.
This means that you can decide to keep the business going, to ask for their continued participation.
You can show leadership by explaining the circumstances to them, honestly, and telling them of your intentions and anticipated outcomes. A leader may not be able to predict what the actual outcome will be, but they can decide where they want to go, and what their desired outcome will be.
This means that you should decide on your goals in this period, and ask for help in getting to those goals.
If you don’t employ people, your business should still show leadership.
You can do this by keeping customers and other interested stakeholders involved and informed. Let them know how you are going to trade and how you can serve.
One of the restaurants in Perth decided to keep all its staff and stay open in the early days of the shutdown. Their social media pages and website explained exactly what was going on. They converted to a home-delivery venue and re-positioned their wait staff into delivery drivers.
Contrast that with other restaurants that simple went dark. A simple message on their website: “We are temporarily closed.”
Guess which of these restaurants customers will remember? Guess which restaurant will have secured loyal staff who will do anything for the owners?
So, here’s your challenge for the first day:
Take 60 minutes. That’s all – I think you can find an hour in your busy day.
In 60 minutes ask yourself what you can do to be the leader to your staff. Review what strategies you have decided to adopt in this period and ask yourself how this might affect the health and mental wellbeing of staff. Further, ask yourself what is the shining outcome you are intending to work toward (you might be afraid of actually doing it, but unless you’ve given up already, what is that Big Goal you have in your mind?).
Write out a phrase that encapsulates the Big Shiny Goal. Write three things that will either give your staff heart and motivation or that they can practically do to help you get that Big Shiny Goal.
Then, call you staff together and tell them what your Big Shiny Goal is, and how they are affected, and most of all, how you will ensure that it will happen.
The second key to business success is the practice of planning.
I call it the Practice of Planning because I believe that the act of planning is not only consigned to that annual retreat when you take yourself away and make your new year resolutions (otherwise known as business planning)!
Your business should practice the principles of planning in everything you do.
You should be doing long-range planning to set some big-picture goals so that every day, you can get your bearings to see if in 10 years’ time you will be getting what you want.
You should be planning for the year ahead to set the short-term targets that will help you get to those long-term big-picture goals. Annual business plans clarify long-term strategies and set out practical things to do.
But you should also use the principles of planning in setting tasks for the week ahead, in starting a new project, in closing something down, in hiring staff, in creating new strategies.
The principles of planning are:
- Set your goal or goals so you know what you want in some detail
- Ascertain where you are now in relation to those goals
- Identify the gaps between where you are now and where you want to be
- Decide on tasks or actions or strategies to bridge those gaps.
Your challenge for the second day is to create a plan for something you are trying to do in your business.
This should only take an hour out of your day but it will reap benefits in time saved because you know what to do every step of the way.
Take something that you want to do, or you want to find a solution to, or you’re worried about and think you need to do something about.
First, define the issue and decide what you want to achieve at the end of the day.
Let’s say you are worried about ongoing productivity and think you need to do something about it. First, you define the problem as accurately as you can – it takes one minute – by stating your concern: “I’m worried that productivity will keep going down and sales will drop or be less profitable.”
Then state what outcome you want: “I want to make sure that we are as efficient as possible.”
Second, think about where you are now in terms of efficiency. Perhaps remote workers are taking too long to complete tasks and when they do, you are not ready to take the next steps.
Third, identify the gap between what you want and where you are. In this example, the gap is that there is too much time spent idle as tasks get handed over from one person to another.
Finally, decide on what you will do to bridge this gap. In this example, you can agree on deadlines for each step of the task. You can schedule your own day so that you are free when the task is handed over. You can also implement a procedure logging system so that everyone knows what step the task is undergoing at any time.
The third key to business success is consistent marketing.
You cannot afford to treat marketing as something you do when you have time – whether now (especially now) or when times are good.
Marketing feeds the lifeblood of any business – sales.
Marketing is not some difficult “art” that only those creative types or those with the gift of the gab can do.
Marketing is, in many ways a logical science that you can learn.
The formula is:
- Know what you sell (in terms of what it means to the buyer) as your promise
- Know who you should sell to
- Know where you can best reach them
- Create your marketing initiatives
- Be consistent
So, here’s your challenge for day three:
This will take a little longer than an hour, but it will provide you with more sales – so, worth it?
In step 1, write down three things that the buyer of your product benefits from owning your product. Make sure that at least two of them are emotive benefits.
Perhaps they feel pride because your product is unique. Perhaps they feel comfortable because your service gives them security or peace of mind. Maybe your buyer will benefit because your product or service helps them achieve something.
Write these three things into a clear message intended for your buyer:
- Whenever you pull out our product from your pocket, people will comment and tell you they wish they had one
- Let us do this for you and you can sleep well at night
- With this in your hand, your projects will be completed faster and look better
Step 2 is to describe exactly who is best suited to buy your product or service. Put aside the images of people you already have in your mind and describe your ideal customer, who is most suited to your product – where do they live? What do they do? How much do they earn? What matters to them? What worries them? What hurts them right now? What do they desire?
Make sure that you are very clear who – the type of person or business – you should sell to.
In step 3 and looking closely at your description of your ideal customer, ask yourself where they can best be reached.
If they are professional people, is it at their conferences or through their professional associations?
Depending on their demographics and behaviour, is it through social media?
Do they gather at schools during school pickup?
Is it best to attract their attention in the newspaper or through email or even snail mail?
If you are clear on who your ideal customer is, you should have some good ideas about where to reach them.
Then, in step 4, think of 3 or 4 ways to get your message (step 1) to your ideal customers (step 2) where they “gather” (step 3).
If you are trying to reach new mothers with the message that they will feel secure once they use your baby monitoring device, and know that the best place to reach them is through pharmacies and at home, you could:
- Partner with the pharmacies in your area to sell your product or hand out cards that ask mothers with new babies if they would like an extra layer of security at home
- Letter-drop the area with handouts messaging the safety aspects of baby monitors
- Insert an advertisement in a baby products magazine
Make sure you complete the day’s challenge by being consistent, so step 5 is to write in a calendar when you will implement the 3 or 4 activities and when you will repeat them – for at least 12 months ahead.
The fourth key to business success is following up customer fulfilment.
Note that I don’t talk about just “customer satisfaction”.
Customer satisfaction is making sure the customer is satisfied with the product.
Customer fulfilment is so much more, about whether the customer is insanely happy at the whole experience of dealing with you.
The challenge on day 4 is simple.
Look at the way your product or service looks or is packaged – does it “look” like what your ideal customer “wants”? Don’t hide an expensive product in a cheap box.
Look at your marketing methods – I know after step 3 you are focused on telling them how your product exactly meets the needs of that particular customer but does the marketing method suit that particular customer? Is it really a good idea to sell Rolex watches through a mail letter-drop on photocopied paper?
Look at your engagement at the sale – how did you treat the customer? What business values did you display – honesty, integrity, service-orientation?
What happens after the sale? Do you ignore your customer or do you follow up? If you are a tradesperson, do you just do the job and leave, or do you clean up after yourself? Do you call a few days later to see if they need any help using your product? Can you point them to helpful “how-to” videos on YouTube?
Your task for day 4 is to ensure that every touch-point with you’re customer reinforces how pleasurable dealing with you is and will continue to be.
The fifth key to business success is to ensure that all your procedures, routines and administrative functions are efficient.
You need to attain overall operational efficiency.
So, your challenge on day 5 is to take the time to think about where you have internal roadblocks and inefficiencies. Deconstruct your business into the various functions – sales, purchasing, production, physical equipment and premises, administration, billing and accounts.
For each function ask: where does the process slow down? Why does it slow down? What can I do to remove friction?
Think of things like eliminating double-handling, implement checklists, better training, faster suppliers, automation, paperless office, routine scheduling and discarding legacy and unnecessary processes.
Write down at least 5 things you can do throughout your business.
You can now take a break for the weekend because if you have completed your challenges so far across Monday to Friday, your next challenge can be left for next week.
On the following Monday, you can tackle the sixth key of business success which is the Mastery of Finance.
Mastering your own finances, that is.
Every successful business owner knows what their business means financially, and understands the relationship between what they do and what the financial result is.
Most are not accountants!
Successful business owners have understood that the ultimate measure of a successful business is the financial success of that business – that the business makes a sufficient profit, and that it has positive cash flow.
In order to get here, if they are not accountants, they have enrolled the help of good accountants who can explain the finances and show them the results.
In order to make money successfully, you need to have financial goals – how much you would like to earn and what value you would like your business to be, you need to understand key financial measurements like profit ratios, return on investment and break-even points.
Your challenge for day 6 is to make some decisions – that’s all!
You need to make a decision to get your accountant to “train” you in understanding some key financial measurements and how to get them.
To make this decision real, schedule your first meeting with your accountant to discuss what you need to know. Ensure that at this meeting, you schedule regular sessions where he can show you what your figures mean to your success.
At the end of day 6 of this 6-day challenge, you will have implemented some tactics that put into play the six key factors in what makes a business successful.
You will have started to put them into practice:
- The Act of Leadership
- The Practice of Planning
- The Logic of Marketing
- The Pursuit of Customer Fulfilment
- The Attainment of Operational Efficiency
- The Mastery of Finance
The more you focus on these six factors the more you will create strategies to ensure that your business survives the pandemic, becomes stronger, and at the right time, grows as you envision.
To read more about the Six Business Success Factors, you can download my free Small Business Owner’s Growth Guide and Roadmap here.
See you next week!